Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has responded to employees’ concerns over the company’s decision to flog its HoloLens tech to the US military.
The deal, worth nearly half a billion dollars, was signed off last November and will see the US military just as disappointed with its field of view as the rest of us, to the tune of 100,000 units.
At the time, the goal of the project was to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy”.
Microsoft to staff: We remain locked and loaded with US military – and will keep adding voice to AI ethics debate
Enter the Twitter account Microsoft Workers 4 Good, which took exception to the whole “increase lethality” thing. The group, which decided to wait until the eve of Alex Kipman’s big day in Barcelona (the Mobile World Congress will be there all of this week) before acting, kicked off with a letter to Nadella and Pope-botherer Brad Smith, saying they didn’t “sign up to develop weapons” and demanding a say in what the company does with their works.
Microsoft’s employees have vented in the past about its dealings with US agencies, urging bosses to withdraw from megabucks contracts such as the Pentagon’s JEDI project. Smith and Nadella had a crack at dealing with the problem during a staff Q&A last year, explaining that those defending the US should have the best tech (i.e. Microsoft’s), and if employees didn’t like it then, well, HR is over there.
Google announced back in June it wasn’t renewing its own controversial AI identification involvement in the Department of Defense’s Project Maven. It also dropped out of the JEDI race. 3,000 staff had earlier signed an open letter to the search giant, imploring it not to get involved in “the business of war”.
See this, Google? Microsoft happy to take a half-billion in sweet, sweet US military money to ‘increase lethality’
Microsoft, on the other hand, has stated that “when it comes to the US military, as a company, Microsoft will be engaged”.
Microsoft Workers 4 Good first made an appearance at the end of January, claiming the activities of the Microsoft Political Action Committee (MSPAC) – a group that decides which politicos will receive cash from sources such as employee donations – “was singlehandedly the topic most wanted to talk about”.
It seems the HoloLens 2 launch was too good an opportunity to pass up, hence the letter regarding the months-old deal.
The group claims to have 250+ Microsofties signed up in support of the letter. It’s not quite the 3,000 who put their name to the Google note and a far cry from the 131,000 employed by the company.
Heck, in the UK 806 people have signed up to a petition to the government entitled “Justice for cats“.
Nevertheless, Nadella felt the need to respond when asked about the letter in an interview. The CEO said that while the company “welcomes dialog with our employees on a continuous basis”, it has “made a principled decision that we are not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy”.
So there. ®